Oil magnate William "Bill" Koch has decided to file suit after buying several bottles of wine he believed belonged to Thomas Jefferson.
Koch recently took California businessman Eric Greenberg to court alleging that Greenberg sold him $300,000 worth of bogus vintage Bordeaux in 2004 and 2005.
Opening arguments began Wednesday in Manhattan. Koch said the wine, some of which bought through Christie's, touted as being from Thomas Jefferson's estate was inauthentic.
“This case is a simple case about a seller who failed to disclose key information that any buyer would want to know before spending thousands of dollars on a purchase,” Koch's attorney John Hueston said.
Bottles sold through New York auctioneers Zachys and their catalog warned that “prospective bidders are invited to inspect the property before bidding.”
Koch’s lawyer said the burden of doing that is too much to ask of buyers. “It would have taken Koch’s expert, Michael Egan, at his current rate of 36 bottles per 15 hours, more than 7,000 hours, at a cost of nearly $1m, to inspect all 17,000 bottles,” Koch’s legal representative argued in pretrial memorandum of law.
The Florida billionaire formerly worked in the family oil business, Koch Industries, but after a long legal battle he sold his share to his brother David and Charles, founders of the conservative think-tank Americans for Prosperity.
Greenberg denies that the wines are fake. “It’s not going to be disputed that Mr. Koch could have had any expert he wanted inspect any bottle he wanted,” his attorney Arthur Shartsis said. “He chose not to do that.”
Shartsis added that Koch bought the wine “as is.”
“As is means there are no representations, no promises that the descriptions in the catalogue are correct. There are no promises about anything. That’s why they give people the opportunity to inspect,” Shartsis said.
Zachys was dismissed from the complaint last year. A U.S. court ruled in 2012 that too much time had passed for Koch to bring charges against Christie's auction house. But Koch, who is worth an estimated $4 billion, still has his sights set on Greenberg.
“He’s like Ahab,” Greenberg’s lawyer, Bill Cunningham, told the Guardian on Friday. “Eric offered to him a refund and offered to have a charity event in which experts tasted the wines. Koch turned down the refund and the charity offer.” Koch’s lawyers confirmed that an offer was made, but that the billionaire returned Greenberg’s check.
Cunningham said that of the 24 bottles in question, experts for Koch's complaint cannot agree which ones are the fakes. Furthermore he said his client did not sell the wines, but rather Zachys is culpable for the sale.
“No one doubts that there were counterfeit or inauthentic wines in [Greenberg's] collection. But what we are concerned with is firstly that Eric Greenberg did not select the wines for auction and did not knowingly sell inauthentic wines. Secondly, even the experts do not agree [about what wines are fake].”